Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hail the Motherland, Down with the Fatherstate

An election season winds to a close. A new Government will come into being. And its first action will be to dole out largess to the various vote banks it went about wooing. The UPA has already mentioned reservations for minorities - what the FUCK does that mean at this point? - and a national food subsidy for every poor individual in the country. They also mean to expand the NREGA and the standard free power packages. Other parties are also busy promising people things that will drop into their lap as gifts, should they come into power.

Note the use of that term. Gifts. None of these actions are in any sense directed towards mitigating India's issues of poverty, inequality etc. None of them, even the ones that aim to "uplift" the poor, do something that directly enables the underprivileged. Bounty must needs drop from the sky - or rather the public Exchequer - onto people in exchange for their vote. The standard responses to these promises are cynical statements like "It's an excuse for corruption" or "These politicians are only out for their vote banks". What a lot of people miss however, is the cultural history behind these actions.

Consider pre-British India, specially in the waning days of the Mughal Empire. A territory could belong to one ruler today, and another tomorrow. Today you might have to report to the Peshwa of XYZ, and tomorrow to the Nizam of ABC. That Peshwa/Sultan/Nizam/Raja moreover would delegate all responsibility over the land to some local jagirdar/zamindar. Within this feudal and often fractured system, consistent bootlicking was the only way to get anything you wanted from those in power, who were essentially men with swords/guns/artillery. You can call this an opinion, but think of this - How many of our old tales involve crises that were in the end resolved by a wave of the ruler's hand, whether a crisis of poverty or crime? The ruler is traditionally held as a dispenser of all state functions - largesse is his/her generosity and justice his/her righteousness. The idea of an independent functionary who dispenses the duties of the state because it is his/her function wasn't there (Although there were rare exceptions such as Akbar, who established a Quazi system for legal disputes and so forth).

The British could have fixed this if they wanted. But they didn't care to. It suited them to take the places at the very top, and worry only about getting theirs. Hence, with marginal improvements, the bureaucracy that Macaulay established in India pretty much took the place of the original system, with babus and Governer-sahibs being the ones whose boots had to be licked.

The real sin Nehru committed was in not removing this mental baggage, IMO. In establishing his Socialist state, Nehru essentially told the people "We'll take care of everything for you. You need do nothing. Not be entrepreneurs, not think competitively, not take the offensive when it comes to your betterment, not even pay taxes" He moreover expanded the role of the State, giving it soft power over all socioeconomic aspects, and nationalized just about everything under the Sun, assuring people the Gornament would do all and provide all, be the maa-baap of the people. His babus however, made it abundantly clear that their services had a price. Glory of the nation and advancement of the people was all fine, but sarkaari salaries after all were sarkaari salaries.

The result? More bootlicking. Except now it's to a whole bunch of people. It's to IAS officers. It's to IPS officers. It's to MLAs and MPs. It's to Secretaries and Clerks and Commisioners. It's to way more people than our medieval ancestors had to lick the boots off. And it reached a stage wherein bootlicking to strangers produced no result. Hence the development of regional/caste-based/linguistic/religious parties and candidates. Apne aadmi par to hum bharosa kar sakthe hain.

The way forward? Well, to some extent the market has shown the way but there's only so much it can do. The real task, if you see is for people to realize their rights, and collectively put the apparatchiks of the State in their place. This, sadly is hard to explain to a Jhumritalaiyya farmer. Till such time someone can do that, he must continue his daily supplications.

Monday, April 20, 2009

What to do?

I didn't hear what she was originally saying. I was hurrying home with dinner on my mind, she was sitting in a corner facing away from me and the wind and rain and street made whatever she was saying unintelligible. Hell, all I can tell you about her is that she had dark hair and wore a green or blue shirt (It's already fading away).

It was when I reached the road ten paces in front of where she was seated that her voice rose. "You did not ....(it was still garbled)...Are you a decent guy? What the fuck....supposed to...How am I.... How the fuck..."

All this I could hear as I was crossing over to the other side, which speaks both for the volume of said subject's voice and my desire to get away from a fellow human being in distress. Years of living in India, after all, have not gone to waste.

I looked back when I had reached the other side. She was saying something I could not hear. I couldn't see if she was speaking. What I could see was her head sunken and shoulders shaking.

She might have been talking to her father. Her brother. Her friend. Her boyfriend, fiancee or husband. Hell, for all I know, her pimp or drug dealer (this is unlikely btw, seeing as she looked like a college student). But to hear her speak and see her break down made me sympathetic.

What should I have done? Gone back across and admitted I heard her conversation? Come off as a voyeur? A possible creep? What would I have said to make the thing better? What COULD I have done? Tell me if something occurs to you.

It's a question we ask ourselves every now and then. And it's never pleasant when we do.